The time is ripe for backyard produce exchanges
IF you happen upon McCleery Reserve, in Coburg, on the third Saturday morning of the month, you’ll see a small group gathered next to a big brolly. They’re the gardeners of the Inner North Urban Harvest, there to swap home-grown fruit and vegies.
On the trestle tables and in baskets, you’ll see the season’s produce sorted. And likely as not, you’ll see the swappers in repose. “It’s a very good excuse to sit down and have a cup of tea and a chat, really,” says Alicia Hooper, one of the swap’s founders. “We catch up on what’s going on in people’s gardens and share tips, tricks and recipes.”
The Coburg group is just one of dozens of food swaps around the city and beyond. There are long-standing monthly exchanges at CERES in East Brunswick, and Smith Reserve in Fitzroy, and others in Bulleen, Forest Hill, Newport and Footscray, to name just a few.
Swaps are easy to set up, blessedly free of bureaucracy and as popular as summer’s first strawberries.
Ms Hooper says all-comers are welcome at their events, bearing any shade of green-thumb or any variety of fresh produce. “In the summer months, people often bring bags of plums, apricots and other stone fruit. It always makes a return next time as some sort of preserve,” she says.
As well as encouraging healthy eating, the urban harvest is about learning. “I’ve never before had such a good understanding of seasonal produce and the sorts of blights that occur,” Ms Hooper says. “It’s given me an appreciation of the land, resources and transport it takes to feed ourselves.”
Skill sharing is also top of the list for Drysdale Harvest Basket, on the Bellarine Peninsula. The swap has been running for just 18 months, says co-founder Jill Pring, but members have been spoilt for workshops, talks and backyard tours.
“Over time people have lost knowledge about how to provide food for themselves and their family, so we’re trying to reintroduce those skills. The older generation in the group love being able to pass them along,” she says.
Swaps are held on the first Saturday of each month at Drysdale’s neighbourhood centre. The group has about 90 members ($10 a year, per household). Like the Coburg urban harvest, it is very informal; members give and take as they please. “People take less than what they bring,” Ms Pring says. “It doesn’t matter how many times you encourage them to take more.”
Any leftover fruit and vegies are given to the public by way of donation to the local food bank.
Ms Hooper and Ms Pring encourage householders to start their own swap if there isn’t already one in their neighbourhood. Permits usually aren’t necessary, because the veggies are swapped among neighbours, not bought and sold.
But if you want to start an exchange and you’re concerned about regulations, contact the Municipal Association of Victoria, or your local council. Friends of the Earth in Adelaide have also put together a helpful step-by-step guide.
When she began in Drysdale, Ms Pring was motivated by the idea of reducing food miles and promoting eating fresh, local, seasonal produce. “But surprisingly, the most valuable thing that has been building up a strong community feeling,” she says. “The more communities that do it, the better.”